Like a weed, it sprouts up and spreads out. It grows quickly, moving from your head to your back, down your legs, over your arms and even on your face. Hair can be beautiful, but when it creeps onto other body parts like your upper lip, chin and back, it can be more embarrassing than attractive. Hair growth is natural, but some people will grow more hair than others due to age, hormonal imbalance or other factors [source: Meisler]. From shaving to plucking, you can find several hair removal methods designed to help you remove unwanted hair. Unfortunately, these methods are only temporary; that hair will return before you know it, whether you like it or not.
If you're one hair away from an embarrassing situation, you may want to consider electrolysis. Electrolysis is a cosmetic procedure developed more than 100 years ago to treat people with ingrown eyelashes. However, electrolysis doesn't just remove the hair -- it destroys the hair follicle that produces the hair. A hair follicle destroyed by electrolysis will never produce a hair (or bother you) again.
Thanks to its destructive success, electrolysis is the only hair removal system considered permanent by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) [source: WebMD ]. Though the process is slow and expensive, men and women alike have turned to electrolysis to keep hair from growing back in certain areas [source: Bouchez].
If you're considering this cosmetic procedure, you should assess the risks and benefits involved to determine if electrolysis is right for you. It's also a good idea to look at some alternatives to electrolysis. Read on to find out if temporary laser therapy is a better solution to your hairy situation.
Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal
Electrolysis and lasers are popular hair removal methods that can remove hair on most areas of the body. Though they have some similarities, these two methods come with different requirements, different results -- and different price tags.
During electrolysis, a tiny needle is inserted into the skin. The needle is placed deep into an individual hair follicle that holds one hair. Then, a low-level electrical energy pulse is sent into the follicle to destroy it. The existing hair falls out, and the process is repeated hair by hair [source: American Electrology Association]. Those who opt for electrolysis may need to return for treatment between 10 and 25 times to destroy all the unwanted hair. The method can cost up to $90 per treatment [source: Bouchez].
Unlike electrolysis, which uses electric energy to destroy follicles, laser hair removal employs pulsating light beams. The light is aimed at the hair follicle where it heats the melanin in the hair. When melanin is heated, it tends to burn; this causes the hair follicle to temporarily stop producing hair. However, laser hair removal doesn't work for lighter hair colors. If your hair is a good candidate for the procedure, be aware that you may need five to eight treatments, and you'll have to wait six to eight weeks between treatments [source: Mayo Clinic]. What's more, the procedure can cost up to $500 per treatment [source: Bouchez].
With either method, you risk inflammation, scarring and changes in pigmentation, so it's important to see a licensed or certified technician who is trained to perform these procedures and can ensure your safety [source: Mayo Clinic]. If you think electrolysis is the right choice for you, keep reading to find out what types of electrolysis are available.
Types of Electrolysis
If you choose electrolysis, you may find technicians who offer two or three different types of electrolysis. The methods differ depending on the types of conductors (the materials used to transfer heat energy) they employ.
Galvanic electrolysis uses chemicals as conductors. In this method, the needle transmits a direct electrical current which acts upon the natural saline in your hair follicle and reacts to produce sodium hydroxide (lye). When sodium hydroxide heats up, it destroys the hair follicle.
Thermolysis uses water as a conductor. Here, the needle transmits an alternating current to vibrate the hair follicle. The vibration shakes the water molecules surrounding the follicle, which then heats up and destroys the follicle itself.
Some technicians may offer a "blend method" that combines the two procedures [source: Barba]. It's more likely, however, that you'll need to choose a method based on the availability of a technician who offers it.
A final type of electrolysis is available as an at-home kit that you can use on yourself. At-home electrolysis usually comes in the form of the electric tweezer. This method is widely considered unsafe, and only some states will authorize producers to call their product a form of permanent hair removal [source: WebMD]. The problem is that the electric tweezer vibrates the hair, not the hair follicle. Hair can't destroy hair follicles, so the tweezer won't do the trick [source: Barba]. If you're looking for something safe, see a trained technician. Electrolysis performed by a professional provides other benefits besides safety.
Find out why this may be the best method for hair removal -- and why you may not want to rip your hair out by the roots -- on the next page.
Benefits of Electrolysis
Electrolysis is the only permanent hair removal system available; this is what sets it apart from all other procedures. A number of other benefits may also make electrolysis the ideal choice for you.
First, electrolysis is a fairly natural procedure. While other methods like creams may use chemicals, electrolysis works with the natural saline and water deep in the skin to destroy the hair follicle. In addition, laser hair removal can burn the skin, causing irritation, scarring and pain. There's no risk of burning with electrolysis, as light isn't used in the process [source: Bouchez].
Finally, if you're of African descent, your hair shafts are likely curved, which can make it tough to shave, wax or pluck. Removal of hair of this type often leads to ingrown hairs and further problems. With electrolysis, both the hair and the hair follicle are permanently destroyed. You don't have to worry about the directional growth of your hair -- electrolysis will destroy its root regardless of the direction of the hair growth [source: WebMD].
There are some risks and problems associated with electrolysis, but a majority of these are temporary. If you're interested in electrolysis, you should weigh the benefits and risks to determine whether electrolysis works for you or if it's just not worth it. On the next page, find out what problems could occur during and after your electrolysis treatment.
Problems with Electrolysis
Electrolysis comes with a number of risks and potential problems. On the practical side, electrolysis is time-consuming; it requires a technician to destroy hairs one at a time. Though treatment sessions are typically short, your first treatment may only destroy 15 to 50 percent of your unwanted hair [source: Leortec]. It could take a year of treatments to eliminate all your unwanted hair, which may take a hefty chunk out of your pocketbook [source: Bouchez].
Though electrolysis doesn't involve outside chemicals or burning lights, it's associated with a number of other negative side effects. In some cases, you could feel pain during treatment. Your technician might apply a numbing cream to the skin an hour before treatment to help reduce that pain. Scarring and temporary inflammation can also occur, though it's unlikely [source: Bouchez].
You should not choose electrolysis if you have a pacemaker, as a direct current could heat up the pacemaker's metal plates [source: Barba]. Electrolysis is also not recommended for people with rosacea, since the skin is so easily irritated.
Finally, though electrolysis is good at eliminating the curved hairs of people of African descent, the method has the potential to change their skin color. Areas of the skin treated by electrolysis may become lighter or darker than other parts of the skin. This change is most noticeable in darker-skinned people [source: Bouchez].
If you're interested in electrolysis, the next step is to find a licensed technician in your state. Use the links on the next page for more information.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Rosacea Patients Can Enjoy Some Spa Treatments." 2009. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/rosaceanet/spa_treatments.html
- American Academy of Family Physicians. "Hirsutism (Excess Hair)." 5/07. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/hormone/210.html
- American Electrology Association. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Accessed 8/17/2009) http://www.electrology.com/faq.htm
- Barba, Alicia, MD. "Nonlaser Hair Removal Techniques." 5/27/08. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1067139-overview
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- Mayo Clinic. "Laser Hair Removal." 3/28/08. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://mayoclinic.com/health/laser-hair-removal/MY00134
- Meisler, Jodi Godfrey, MD, RD. "Toward Optimal Health: The Experts Discuss Facial Skin and Related Concerns in Women." 10/30/03. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/461568
- WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Electrolysis." 4/1/05. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/cosmetic-procedures-electrolysis
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- WebMD. "Shaving Tips for Teen Girls." 2/8/09. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/shaving-tips-girls
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